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Residents go home after one last blast of weather

Most evacuation orders are lifted, the storms move east and a firefighter gives a wet dog a second chance.

January 22, 2010|By Seema Mehta and Ching-Ching Ni
  • The firefighter and dog are moved to higher ground.
The firefighter and dog are moved to higher ground. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)

Evacuees from foothill neighborhoods returned home in droves on Friday and airborne firefighters staged a dramatic rescue of a dog that was trapped in the rushing Los Angeles River as a series of storms left parts of the region drenched, battered by hail and blanketed by snow.

Gusty winds, thunderstorms, downed trees and half-inch hailstones were elements of the last of a series of storms that buffeted Southern California. By Friday evening, however, the heavy weather had begun to trail off, and forecasters predicted quiet, dry conditions for today.

"Everything will be all greened up and brilliant," said Bill Patzert, a meteorologist at the Jet Propulsion Lab. "Southern California will have turned from brown to green, although it will be a bit chilly."

More than 1,000 homes were ordered evacuated in areas threatened by mudslides and debris flows this week, particularly in areas that had been denuded by the massive Station fire.

On Friday, authorities lifted evacuation orders in La CaƱada Flintridge and La Crescenta. Residents of Acton were also allowed to return home, except for those who live on Heffner Road, which was washed out.

In Los Angeles, officials permitted residents to return to all but one home.

Although some residents had refused to leave -- prompting Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials to plead for their cooperation at televised press conferences -- most heeded the call.

"I'm very glad to be home," Hugh Smith said Friday as he and his family returned to their Alpine Village neighborhood. They were ordered out on Wednesday and stayed with relatives.

"It was a huge inconvenience, but I think it was probably warranted," Smith said of the evacuation.

The body of a Thousand Oaks hiker was discovered Friday in a rain-swollen creek at the bottom of a steep canyon in Wildwood Regional Park, which had been closed because of the rains, authorities said.

Matthew Chidgey, 40, was the subject of a search after he failed to return from a solo outing Wednesday afternoon, authorities said.

A helicopter from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department assisted in recovering his body, authorities said.

Hikers and park visitors were urged to wait at least three days after a rainstorm before using trails.

The day's most dramatic event involved the televised helicopter rescue of a dog, a German shepherd mix that was trapped in the brown, rushing waters of the L.A. River near Vernon.

Joe St. Georges, a Los Angeles Fire Department firefighter, was lowered by a cable into the water and attempted to scoop up the terrified dog. Although firefighters believed the dog was probably exhausted and unlikely to resist, it panicked and began nipping at the firefighter. Despite a puncture wound on his thumb, the firefighter grabbed the dog and lifted him to safety.

"He's cold, he's scared and then there's this stranger jumping on his back. . . . He does what a dog does," St. Georges said at a news conference.

Although some criticized the use of city resources to rescue a dog, St. Georges said the animal's plight threatened to cause greater problems.

"It was a fairly high-publicity scene with the news all around," St. Georges said. "Somebody was going to go do it, and then we'd have to rescue a human victim."

In Long Beach, officials estimated the storm damage at $3 million, with $2 million in damage to homes and businesses and $1 million to public buildings and equipment.

Times staff writers Steve Chawkins, Gale Holland and Monte Morin contributed to this report, along with the Associated Press.

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